Why we all need Monty Python’s Black Knight
First things first.
If you have never watched Monty Python’s The Holy Grail stop reading this post. No, there are no spoilers, but it is far worse to go through life having never experienced such wondrous ridiculousness on film than to miss out on reading this post. Plus the analogies won’t make any sense.
The Black Knight embodies (pun intended, see what I mean?) what we all need in our workplace. That trusted advisor, the sounding board, the person who can tell it to you straight when you are out of line. I’m not talking about a champion – strictly speaking a workplace champion can be tasked with greater responsibilities than our advisor has. This is the relationship that can help get you on your feet in a new company or could assist charting a course for your career. A person in this role is not your coach, they are not your therapist, but they could develop into your mentor. They are not responsible for ensuring you take their advice and hold you accountable. They merely provide the guidance and some of the answers to what you seek. Your choices are still your own. Come to think of it, your advisor could be more like Yoda, but as I just watched The Holy Grail again, I am sticking to the Black Knight analogy.
We’ll call it a draw
Finding your knight. The Black Knight is defined by his tenacity, never backing down when the odds are long past being in his favour. Apply this same tenacity to identifying your advisor at work. A relationship does not need to exist beforehand, but it certainly makes the first step easier. Ideally you are looking for a co-worker who is a little up the ladder from you, or a well-respected peer. They could be someone whose behaviour you were impressed by, maybe you witnessed them handling themselves really well in a tough situation. If you are able to, simply arrange a half hour meeting to discuss a current challenge you are experiencing. Hint: ensure this first discussion is not sensitive or highly volatile. You do not wish to make your potential advisor uneasy. See how that first meeting goes. Did you find it easy to talk to this person? Do you trust their advice?
Time to pop the question. Follow up your meeting by letting them know how much you appreciated their time and valuable feedback. See if they would be open to meeting on a regular basis. Assuming this person is a busy and valued employee, do not ask to meet more than once a month. If you have nothing that you really feel requires their time and input, its fine to let some months go by. This is not therapy.
It’s just a flesh wound
You are having one of those days/weeks/months. Nothing seems to be clicking. You love where you work, and you enjoy what you do, but your get up and go just got up and went. Whereas your best friends at work are likely to agree with you, your knight will tell you when it is time to stop wallowing in the pool of ‘woe is me’. We have all been there, but it can be damaging to your reputation and career prospects if the pity party lasts too long.
If the cause of your frustration is far more specific: you just had your first taste of the office bully, or the experience of having your boss just take credit for your ideas, your advisor could advise you on the best next steps in the workplace ecosystem you necessarily share with that individual. Talking it through with someone you respect who probably had a similar experience will help to calm you and better equip you for the next encounter. Work is not war, but approaching the next meeting with that person in a level-headed state helps ensure you do not walk in ready to engage in battle.
None shall pass
A champion can also be relied on to tell you when to cool your heels. Hopefully your knight has two perspectives that you may be lacking. First, knowing when the time is not right: you are bursting at the seams with some new nugget of wisdom, yet you are oblivious to see the stormy waters currently being experienced in other areas of the business. It doesn’t matter how great your insight is. If you push forward at the wrong time, those wonderful ideas are not going to find a receptive audience. Give your advisor a chance to green light the timing, or at least take their warnings to heart and adjust if the timing is off.
The second perspective they can provide, especially if you are relatively new to the company or have just received a promotion, is how things get done at your company. Not the day-in, day-out efforts, rather the larger scale politics. Every company has politics to navigate. Your workplace could be driven by nepotism; it could still be an old boys club; or it might be that only tenured employees have their opinions heard. Whatever the scenario, there is some group of employees whose voices carry more weight. Your knight may be able to help explain the lay of the land for you. This does not mean they will open doors that are currently closed, but by understanding who your real audience is you have a great opportunity to tailor your message.
The Black Knight does not have a large role in the movie, yet he is the one character everyone remembers and quotes. Find your advisor, nurture the relationship and see how much of an impact a little of their time can do for you!